Located deep within England’s most extensive natural harbour the island’s anchorages all offer good protection. Safe access is available in almost all reasonable conditions, and at all states of the tide to its primary anchorage.
Keyfacts for Brownsea Island
SummaryA good location with safe access.
Position and approaches
Haven position50° 41.604' N, 001° 59.323' W
This is in about two metres off Pottery Pier, situated on the western extremity of Brownsea Island.
What are the key points of the approach?
- Those selecting Pottery Pier anchorage should branch off into the Wych Channel at the large No.18 Port buoy located northeast of Brownsea Island.
- Those choosing Blood Alley anchorages should make certain there is adequate water before branching off at the No.14 Port buoy located in the entrance off the southeast corner of Brownsea Island.
Not what you need?
- Goathorn Point - 0.5 miles SSE
- Port of Poole Marina - 0.5 miles N
- Poole Yacht Club - 0.6 miles NNW
- Poole Quay Boat Haven - 0.7 miles N
- Poole Town Quay - 0.7 miles N
- Shipstal Point - 0.8 miles W
- Parkstone Yacht Club - 0.9 miles NE
- Salterns Marina - 1 miles ENE
- Lake Yard Marina - 1 miles NW
- Cobb's Quay - 1 miles NNW
How to get in?
Brownsea Island lies in the middle of Poole Harbour and is the largest of the extensive harbour's five main islands. The island is predominantly wooded, with an enclosed man-made lagoon on its eastern side, and is 1.25 miles long by 0.6 of a mile wide and consists of 500 acres (202.34 ha). It is today a nature reserve managed by Natural Heritage.
The islands primary anchorage is off Pottery Pier situated at the western extremity of the island. Approaches through Poole Bay and Harbour provide drafts of not less than 6 metres CD up to Port of Poole and the final run up Wych Channel has no less than 2.3 metres.
The approaches to its lesser used southern Blood Alley anchorages has not less than 1.7 metres but quickly descends to 0.3 CD or less around the mouth of the channel.
WEST of BROWNSEA ISLAND
Entry into Poole Harbour is covered in the Poole Town Quay entry. Branch off the Middle Ship Channel into the Wych Channel, the third of Poole Harbour’s principal channels, by rounding the large No.18 Port buoy, Fl.R.4s, off the northeast corner of Brownsea Island.
Follow the Wych Channel for 2¼ miles as it passes north of the island and then around its west end. Although the Wych Channel is marked by port and starboard stakes its deeper waters may readily be seen by the density of leisure craft moorings along its length.
The moorings begin to reduce when a permanently anchored old ferry, repurposed as a fish processing raft, is passed off the island’s north most point.
Less than a ¼ of a mile westward of the raft the Wych turns southward where there is an east cardinal beacon, marking Will's Cut, on its northern flank. Will's Cut is a shallow north-south running channel that connects the Wych and Middle Ship channels. A corresponding east cardinal beacon, on the southern side of Middle Ship Channel opposite the Little Channel leading to Poole Town Quay, marks its junction. Will's Cut is clearly signposted, well marked by closely spaced stakes and has a minimum draft of 0.5 metres CD. It offers shoal draft vessels a convenient cut across the harbour.
Continue along the Wych southward through the markings around the west side of the island. Pottery Pier, situated on the western extremity of Brownsea Island, will be visible for the last half mile.
Anchor according to draft and conditions. Anchor off the channel to the northwest of Brownsea Island clear of moorings and to the east of Wills Cut. Those anchoring in the margins should have little concern if the keel touches as it will sink into the harbour’s soft mud.
Alternatively anchor off Pottery Pier at the western end of the island clear of the oyster beds. Make certain to dig the anchor in well so that the vessel does not lie in a fashion that obstructs the channel. The channel is marked by pairs of unlit port and starboard buoys and is used by harbour tour boats. The harbour’s deep cloying black mud offers excellent holding.
Salterns Marina and Poole Quay Boat Haven offer mooring berths in the Wych Channel which may be available for short stays.
Land on the shale beaches either side of Pottery Pier. Pottery Pier may no longer be used as it is derelict and unsafe. Alternatively there is a much more pleasant landing on Maryland sandy beach surrounding the old ruins of a jetty 300 metres north-eastward of pottery Pier and due south of Will's Cut.
SOUTH of BROWNSEA ISLAND
Two of the harbours most peaceful anchorages are to be found in Blood Alley Lake and Whiteground Lake off Brownsea Island’s southern shore. Blood Alley Lake carries a minimum draft of 0.3 metres which occasionally dries in patches, providing access to Whiteground Lake.
With careful sounding a vessel drawing up to about 1.5 metres should stay afloat in Blood Alley. But it will not be possible to get in or out of these lakes anywhere near low water. These are the domain of the more adventurous with a shallow draft who are prepared to work the tides during daylight hours. Those who have the time and patience will find these anchorages provide the harbours quietest setting with the most beautiful and unspoiled scenery it has to offer. Both anchorages offer excellent protection in northerly conditions.
It is possible to pass from the Wych Channel into Whiteground Lake and Blood Alley Lake at high water. A large drying area, drying to 0.5 metres CD at the northwest end of Whiteground Lake and about 400 metres south of Pottery Pier, limits this approach to shoal draft vessels. It is therefore better to enter Blood Alley Lake from the harbour’s entrance and off the southeast corner of the island.
After the No.14 buoy, FI.R.5s, round the lit north cardinal buoy, Q, situated to the north of Stone Island. Then steer to pass the No.1 Green pile beacon, FI.R.5s, to port. This opens up access to Blood Alley Lake and South Deep's Goathorn Point .
An unlit north beacon, that marks the mouth of Blood Alley Lake, will then be seen a little less than 400 metres to the southwest. From this point westward Blood Alley is marked by stakes on either side of the channel.
Blood Alley Lake anchorage can be found a ⅓ of a mile from the entrance marker to the south of the middle of the island. Depths vary between 1.3 and 1.1 metres CD.
Whiteground Lake is situated a ¼ of a mile westward, between Brownsea Island and Furzey Island. It offers slightly deeper water of about 1.7 metres CD.
Why visit here?Brownsea Island derives its name from having been owned by a man named Brúnoc before the Norman invasion. It was first recorded as Brunkeseye in 1241 meaning ‘the island of Brúnoc’. Since that time it has been variously spelt, Brankesey, Bronksey, Brinksea until it finally became its present Brownsea Island in the 20th century.
Evidence of settlement on the island dates back to the beginning of the 5th-century BC. It is believed that the inhabitants farmed its lands and produced pottery which they traded. The earliest remains of human activity are two remarkable sections of a prehistoric log boat that were discovered in 1964 less than a hundred metres off the Brownsea’s eastern shore. The first piece of the 10-metre-long log boat, made from a single oak log, was accidentally uncovered during dredging work and the remaining section was then found by divers a month later. Radiocarbon dated the log boat to 397 – 176 BC, and it comprised what was a sophisticated design for its time of a slot fitted transom and well-shaped bow.
The Romans settled in small communities around Poole Harbour and evidence of a submerged Roman settlement, including pieces of wooden furniture, have also been found on the eastern side of the island. It is to be expected that other submerged Roman sites and features also exist within the Harbour. Viking raiding parties attacked the area in the 9th-century until King Alfred's naval fleet drove them away in 876 and he then won his decisive Battle of Edington which secured a final successful peace treaty. With the Danish appearing to be expelled, the first records of a modest inhabitation of Brownsea Island appear.
A small chapel and hermitage was built here by monks from Cerne Abbey near Dorchester. The church would have had a hermit who would have most likely administered spiritual welfare to the seamen who landed there. The earliest description of the island comes from this time ‘There ly three isles in the haven of Pool, whereof the most famous is Brunkeshey. Sum say that there has been a paroch in it. There is yet a chapel for an heremite. It longith to Cerne abbey. The chapel was dedicated to St. Andrew, of which it and the hermitage there are no remains. ’ The little church gave St. Andrew's Bay, now the lagoon enclosed by dams on the island’s northeastern shore, its name.
In 1015, Canute led a Viking raid into the harbour and used Brownsea as a safe point to retreat and regroup from the Frome after attacking Wareham and Cerne Abbey. St. Ethelwold noted ‘Canutus, having spoiled the church and monastery of Cerne, took to the haven, and sailed thence to Branksey which is two miles from Poole, having on it no buildings, save a chapel only.’ Canute then destroyed the chapel. Within a couple of years Canute would be king of England.
Brúnoc, who lent the island its name, owned the island at the time of the Norman invasion. William the Conqueror gave Studland, which included Brownsea, to his half-brother Robert de Mortain. There is no mention of Brownsea Island in the 1086 Domesday Book. It is believed that it was included in the survey of de Mortain’s Studland estate, with some of the twenty-two salterns said to be in that parish, being on the shores of this island.
In 1154, King Henry II granted the Abbot of Cerne the island and the ‘right of wreck’ along its shoreline. The Abbey continued to control the interests of Brownsea for the next 350 years and the monks fiercely guarded their right to keep all shipwrecks, flotsam and jetsam that came up on it.
Pirates terrorised the locals in the 15th century enjoying nothing better than raiding the Kings cellars on Pool Quay which held their contraband of brandy and tobacco. The legendary Poole privateer Harry Paye, who gave his name to the ‘Old Harry Rocks’ and who is also celebrated locally by the annual ‘Harry Paye day’, sailed from here to loot and torch the towns of Spain and France. Harry caused such mayhem that he provoked a French invasion in an attempt to kill him. One battle with Poole’s customs officers resulted in the lake south of the island running red with blood and it remains known to this day as ‘Blood Alley Lake’.
After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the seizure of ecclesiastical property brought Brownsea to the Crown. Henry VIII recognised the island's strategic importance of guarding the narrow entrance to the expanding port of Poole. As part of his deterrent to invasion forces from Europe, he built a fortified simple artillery fort at the south-eastern extremity of the island. In 1547 this was replaced with a blockhouse which became known as Brownsea Castle, though originally Branksea Castle.
From the 1720s until the 1960s when it was donated to the nation, Brownsea Island became a mini-kingdom for a succession of rich men. During this time Brownsea Castle functioned as a country house at the centre of an estate. Each owner bent Brownsea to their will, embellishing their private kingdom by landscaping the grounds and gradually adding associated structures to the castle. The island saw its largest development during Victorian times and especially so under the custodianship of William Waugh, a former Colonel in the British Army, who made the mistake of trying to get richer by investing in the island.
After walking through the Island, with his wife Mary, Waugh noticed some white mud stuck to his wife’s walking stick. The production of low quality brick and tiles had taken place on the island since the earliest days of the 17th century. But Waugh believed that the white mud indicated that the island had precious white clays that could make high quality porcelain. He immediately bought the island in 1852 and stated to invest lavishly.
At the turn of the century the island was bought by Charles van Raalte who brought about a period of unparalleled prosperity and grandeur. The family's steam launch, the Blunderbuss, brought over wealthy and titled guests from various European royal families. They would enjoy elegant summer house-parties, a new golf course, and shoot game in the woods. Included in the visitors was Marconi who gave a wireless set to the van Raalte's children.
In 1907 van Raalte hosted the first trial of a Scout camp. This was led by Lord Baden-Powell to test his ideas for his book ‘Scouting for Boys’. He had drawn on sons of friends and the local Boy's Brigade for this first camp on the island. The success of this camp gave birth to the Boy Scout movement and Boy Scouts continued to camp on the island up until the early 1930s.
In the 1940s, like other sites in Purbeck, at the western end of the island a ‘starfish’ mock-up of Poole was created by the staff of Elstree film studios with wires and cordite. This was lit to mislead the Luftwaffe navigators into dropping their loads on the island and spare the port of Poole. This decoy saved Poole and Bournemouth from 1,000 tonnes of German bombs in 1942. The deserted village of Maryland took the weight of the bombing and was so severely damaged that it was eventually levelled in the 1960s. Bonham-Christie died in 1961, aged 98, and passed the island on to her grandson. He passed it to the Crown to pay her death duties who in turn handed it to the National Trust. Through the management of the National Trust the Island opened to the public once again in 1963.
Today Brownsea Island has a community of about thirty people who live on the island but it attracts more than 100,000 visitors annually. No effort is made to increase this number in order to avoid damage to the Island. The castle and many of its associated buildings are all Grade II Listed Buildings and, like the rest of the island, form part of the National Trust estate with a small part of the island being leased to the Dorset Wildlife Trust. It has a visitor centre and museum, displaying the island's history. There is also a shop and cafe, with one holiday cottage on the quay. The extraordinarily rare log boat found close by has been on display since 2007 at the Poole Museum.
Brownsea Island’s anchorages offer perfect security and an ideal central location from which to explore the harbour’s hidden recesses by dinghy. Exploring this magical island’s woodland, heathland and coastal walks will most likely be the highlight of any visit to Poole Harbour. It is truly a wonderful place upon which to land, take some time to explore and enjoy its peaceful aura. There is plenty for children to explore including a tree climbing trail and a natural play area. Dogs are however prohibited due to the island’s rare population of red squirrels.
What facilities are available?Toilets are located at visitor reception at the visitor centre of the Baden-Powell Outdoor Centre.
Food is available in the Villano Café. There are free guided walks, twice daily, 11.30am and 2pm.
With thanks to:John Binder CMM Poole Quay Boat Haven & Port of Poole Marina manager. Photography with thanks to LordHarris, Peter Trimming, Hideyuki KAMON and Michael Harpur.
Brownsea Island slide show
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